Twilight Imperium

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Twilight Imperium
Twilight Imperium box.jpg
Wargame published by
Fantasy Flight Games
No. of Players 3-8
Session Time 5-10 Hours. Potentially many more.
Authors Christian T. Petersen
First Publication 1997, 2000, 2005, 2012

Not to be confused with Twitlight

Twilight Imperium is the name of the manly game from FFG, and for the setting of some of FFG's science fiction games. Twilight Imperium itself comes in four editions (each better than the last). There are also expansion packs, which are excellent.

The Setting[edit]

Enter the space operaist space opera that ever was; a galaxy dominated by warring races which players take the roles of. Conquer planets, build ships, make mercantile alliances, research world-killing weapons, and legislate your opponents to death with intergalactic politics. Twilight Imperium is basically a 4X space conquest game (Masters of Orion, etc) in boardgame format: It comes with a randomized Settlers of Catan-style tile system to create a board, and a variety of game mechanics that make each turn new and different.

The game's races are memorably unique, ranging from bipedal feline merchant princes to murderous post-human cyborgs to conniving space goblins who like to play James Bond. The objective of the game is to accumulate victory points by accomplishing objectives. The objectives range from developing technologies and controlling planets, to fucking your enemy's fleets and home systems. Objectives are revealed steadily throughout the game and each player starts with a a special secret objective. This King of the Hill-style objective sits at the center of each star map, and players are given the mandate to win by any means necessary (supplemented by secret objectives for each player, random events, and legislative votes). There is also a huge deck of 'intrigue cards' which essentially provide players with asymmetrical solutions to problems that they can't or won't solve with brute force by letting them lay down all kinds of random events, advantages for themselves, or disadvantages for their opponents. These also serve to add some character to the background of the story; planetary uprisings, religious fanatics and agents sabotaging the opposition.

Gameplay-wise, the game behaves similarly to Fantasy Flight's Game of Thrones boardgame: metagame and the behavior of the participants (singularly and collectively) has a huge impact on shaping each individual gameplay experience. This effects everything from the disposition of the star map (players take turns placing tiles, so each one has some influence on the game board) to how regularly military conflict occurs. The game also recommends randomizing race selection. All of this contributes to each group of gamers giving the game a very unique feel: an aggressive group might mean a lot of military conflict and relatively static alliances enforced by said conflict, while a more Machiavellian group might make the game a cold war of intrigue and vote-counting on passing galactic laws or trade agreements. On top of this, each race has its own unique specialty, further differentiating each player's strategy, and even further, each player chooses what is essentially a 'policy card' each turn that provides a benefit to a certain type of action. In short, there's a lot of emergent complexity, and it makes Twilight Imperium a game with a huge amount of depth and replayability.

The full rulebook is available from Fantasy Flight Games

A brief note: the Imperial strategy (which gives Victory Points to the player who takes it) can be very decisive in 'new' groups that aren't familiar with the game. If you find your games are ending too quickly because of Imperial spam, an easy fix is to have it grant only one Victory Point each time it's taken. If you like shorter games and want to be done at a reasonable hour, it's fine the way that it is.

Another note: Twilight Imperium (like many Fantasy Flight strategy games) is the sort of game that it takes a couple of runs with to 'break in' a group of new players. The first two or three games (at least) are usually a learning process, and shouldn't really be taken as representative of the game's mechanics or balance. It's sometimes informative to run through a full game turn or two, just to let new players get the hang of what all the mechanics do, and then rewind and start over once everyone knows what they're doing.

A lot of strategic decisions made in the first turn or two have very important consequences and it puts new players at a handicap if they have no idea which way is up while they're making decisions. Which strategies to pick, which technologies to get, how to vote on laws, who to trade with, how to balance logistics versus movement, how to conquer planets (and which ones are good for conquering) and move your spaceships around, how to deal with an angry military neighbor that wants to steamroll you... it can be a lot to take in. Don't be a dick, let people figure out what they're doing before you lay on the misdirection and political scheming. Nobody wants to sit around for a few hours getting their ass handed to them because they set up poorly in the first couple of turns. Being nice about it is the key to cultivating a group of repeat players.

There also is a Twilight Imperium module for playing online if you're not up for paying 100 £ for the physical copy.

The Races[edit]

Final 5c87af7819595900144c6ee5 554999.jpg

As mentioned, Twilight Imperium has, if one does the math and rounds up, a fuckton of races, each playing slightly different from each other. Without going into too much detail:

  • The Barony of Letnev: Aristocratic vampire-looking fuckers, loves huges fleets and can bring them easier than all other Races. Has arguably the best home system in the game with loads of resources and two planets. The Barony excels at "bullying", taking tithes and acting tough without necessarily doing much fighting. Their trade abilities are somewhat limited, so be prepared to be rather weak in that department. Find a good friend on one border and annoy the other and you're golden.
  • The Emirates of Hacan: Icon race of TI; middle-eastern space lions. Best traders in the game, will always dominate trade due to special rules. Everyone wants to be friends with you. Tend to have a strange problem with being too passive - they need to be play friendly to get their trade on early, but then they're left with loads of resources for no reason. Can make like the Russians and fucking flood the board in cheap plastic if need be. Also has one of the best home systems, a three-planet(!) system.
  • The Federation of Sol: Bog-standard humans. Makes the manz. Has no specific playstyle really, but loves making loads of ground-troops, expanding fast and hard and staying there, making them good meat-grinder allies for other militaristic races.
  • The L1Z1X Mindnet: Once the leaders of the galaxy called the Lazax, now the Borg due to using cybernetics to survive the harsh environment. Descended from the survivors who fled the capital before their emperor and race were genocided by the other jealous races into extinction. A straight-up aggressive race that makes powerful, risky moves to take defended systems and then taking them over. Their Dreadnoughts are fucking dangerous and their flagship a nightmare. If the L1Z1X wants something, they take it straight up.
  • The Universities of Jol-Nar: Amoral, technocratic fish-people in big tanks. Perhaps the most dangerous race to leave alone for extended periods of time, since their tech-bonuses and starting bonus in that area makes them easily the most snowbally faction in the game. On the other hand, everybody knows what you want to do at all times, so unless you can sweet-talk someone else to aid you, all Tech-laws will be made against you just to stave your scientific advance.
  • The Yssaril Tribes: Tribal Yodas with spears that once ran the secret spy network of the old galaxy. Consisting of 45% Plotting, 25% Secrecy, 20% Nastiness and 110% Action Cards, the Yssaril can do anything they want to do, when they want to do it. If a player shouldn't be able to do a thing, remember that the Yssaril are a bunch of scheming dickbags and that they totally can do that anyway.
  • The Yin Brotherhood: Clones specializing in gene-technology and jihad. Strangely plays sort of defensibly since most of their abilities are based around punishing enemies attacking you by sacrificing their own stuff. Their flagship's a fucking freight-ship filled with nukes, piss and pamphlets about next week's church services.
  • The Clan of Saar: Nomadic badger-people who is hated by everybody due to racism. Can move their Space Docks around and hide them in Asteroid Fields. All the other players will also hate you because you can move through their systems and scavenge their stuff.
  • The Winnu: Vassal race for the old leaders of the galaxy, now believe the rule of the galaxy is theirs. Fucking loves Mecatol Rex so much they would stick themselves into the irradiated crust of it. Super-predictable but can be very strong for it if they have a friend on their side that doesn't want Rex. So, yeah, they're screwed.
  • The Sardakk N'orr: Huge bug-people with a warrior culture. Can become fucking nightmarish in combat by stacking buffs like madmen; sometimes more than need be. Can be surprisingly difficult to play due to their aggressive nature. A common trick is to play like an "attack dog" that other players depend on to attack for them, and then turn around to show them why you shouldn't feed rapid dogs.
  • The Mentak Coalition: FUCKING PIRATES FROM SPACE AUSTRALIA. They raid players besides them and take Trade Goods from people every turn, so they don't make good border-friends - but as an ally on the other side of the galaxy, they can become pretty nice as your mercenary attack team. One of their Techs makes all resources count double for them which one can imagine... Is pretty dang-gosh good.
  • The Embers of Muaat: Flame-people who were slaves to the Jol-Nar. Starts with a goddamn War Sun. That's it pretty much - Everybody are afraid of your Sun, but its slow as molasses and doesn't do well as an assault weapon the way the fully upgraded one does, so it's mostly a kill-sat pointing at yourself so no-one attacks you. Don't let the over-excitable player pilot them or you'll get a War Sun crammed down your throat on turn 2.
  • The Xxcha Kingdom: Weed-smoking diplomat turtles. Rules the diplomacy game and can overtake planets for free without attacking them. Loves playing a defensive game with a small, difficult-to-attack empire with their flagship in the middle. But don't think of them as pacifists; they can enforce their peaceful rule with some laser cannons when need be.
  • The Naalu Collective: Smexy snake women with psychic abilities. The Space Fighter faction, and since Fighters tend to be largely defensive in this game, they tend to play defensively as well. Gets to always go first so can be quite the pickled 'gerkin on the planning and scheming front. If someone picks Naalu, Destroyers suddenly become relevant.
  • The Ghosts of Creuss: Futuristic ghosts in armor. Loves wormholes so much, their home system is a unique worm-hole that accesses all others on the map. Aggressively and totally fucks with other players' minds because they can effectively reach all places on the map if they wanna; no defense is strong enough for them not to find a chink in the armor. Don't piss them off and get them to attack you, but on the other hand, never assume they wouldn't do it even if you're on friendly terms. Played exclusively by schemy dicks.
  • The Arborec: A plant hive mind. Makes the plant-manz, and their plant-manz can produce other things as well. They expand slowly at first but can roll quickly if not kept in check, but tend to play their own game for the most part because of how much planning their military moves needs. Very steady players, can make awesome allies. Make sure they understand that one dude can only produce one thing, so they won't get eight GFs out of a single one.
  • The Nekro Virus: ... And then there's this asshole. Take equal parts Reapers, Necrons and the Terminator, and you get the Nekro Virus. They can only really advance by attacking other players, and they can't be in the law-making game either. When they are a part of the game, they end up becoming the villains of the game more often than not, something not all players like. Keep them the fuck away from the Arborec.

Twilight Armada (the disc game)[edit]

Started out as a fighters expansion for TI 1st edition, later FFG bought the mechanics for a tabletop wargame that used cardboard discs instead of minis. Unit stats were printed around the edge, the illustration showed arcs of fire, and the size of the disc was the relative target profile of the ship. Discs were flipped to show different stats in a damaged state.

Rex: Final Days of an Empire (Remake of Dune)[edit]

Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) has licensed the rights to the mechanics of the boardgame version of Dune published by Avalon Hill (not the board game based on the movie, the one based on the book). Fantasy Flight was unable to get the rights to the Dune license. They re-theme the game to fit into the Twilight Imperium universe. The game now centers on players waring for control of Mecatol Rex.

but the original game is too awesome to screw up, and Twilight Imperium is also awesome, so we can expect an awesome sandwich with a side order of awesome. Unfortunately FFG made multiple changes to match to boardgame trends. This has really dulled the edge of what had been pure evil in cardboard form.

But it's still the best backstab simulator you can get.

Twilight Imperium 4th Edition[edit]

It took only 12 years, but TI now has a new edition - it includes all races (except the original Lazax, but keeping their L1Z1X descendants) from the base game and expansions, some streamlined rules, but it is mostly identical.

Board Games
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Eurogames: Agricola - Carcassonne - Settlers of Catan - Small World - Stratego - Ticket to Ride
Pure Evil: Diplomacy - Dune (aka Rex: Final Days of an Empire) - Monopoly
Others: Icehouse - Shadow Hunters - Twilight Imperium